Sometimes good things lead to bad before they turn good again.
In 1967, as a young pastor with a wife and five-year-old daughter, I moved to a small town in Ohio to pastor a mainline Protestant church. The old church had a history of holding a mission festival, so after I was there one year, I suggested we revive the event. The church council agreed to a Sunday event.
In the morning service, a retired missionary from Honduras gave a gospel message. Many people in the church had not experienced a gospel invitation before, yet about a dozen people came forward at the close of the service to confirm their faith in Christ. The afternoon brought a team from Youth for Christ, and the evening meeting featured a missionary couple from a faith mission. All in all that Sunday, 23 people acted to make Christ their personal savior.
The following weekend, I was away at a weekend retreat with the youth from our church. During that weekend, another dozen youths professed their personal faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.
One would think that this expression of personal faith would start the church on a genuine revival course. Yet during the next year, the church went through struggles.
This small town of 2,000 had three churches from the same denomination—and they all stood within three blocks of one another. The second (and largest) church was right across the street from the parsonage where I lived.
The pastor of the third church—two blocks down the street—was stricken with a cancerous tumor around his heart, entangling the heart so massively that surgery was impossible. I started a Tuesday-morning prayer meeting asking for healing for our pastor friend and anyone else who needed a touch from the Lord. Miraculously, after a month or two, the tumor was gone, and he was declared healed.
Then his church and ours began merger negotiations. Made sense to me. But, as in most cases of merger, the primary stumbling block was, “Whose building would we use?” It never came to pass. My church voted in favor of the merger, but the other church turned it down.
This was during a time of social turmoil. My denomination instituted a new Sunday school curriculum that denied the miracles of the Bible. It sponsored youth events that focused on sensitivity training—which, in my view, sought to teach young people not to be overly sensitive when others physically touch them . And there was the typical anti-Vietnam War sentiment trickling out of headquarters, targeting especially the youth.
I tried to keep the congregation abreast of what was happening at the denominational level through a monthly newsletter, though some simply reprimanded me for publishing such rubbish. And there were still some church stalwarts who continued to resist the evangelistic approach I had initiated.
In 1970, about the third year of my tenure, the congregation elected a new church council, and I felt with the new membership, I stood a good chance of fulfilling my ministry there. Then, on a Monday morning two weeks later, the vice president walked into my office with some unexpected news.
“Reverend Lindner,” he began. “A majority of the church council met last night, and we decided you should resign. And if you don’t resign, we will fire you.”
The news was abrupt, and it about knocked me off my feet—like a meteor from the sky. I guess they thought getting rid of the pastor would make the challenging changes go away.
They did not know an evangelical church across town was interested in my ministry, but that church wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole while I remained the pastor of this one. So I announced my resignation the next Sunday, and the following Sunday I was invited to preach in the evangelical church. They voted to call me as pastor.
My tenure there lasted three years. I moved to another church as a member of the fellowship, and was there three years. Then I was asked to pastor a house group of Christians in a nearby town who wanted to become a congregation, and I did that for three more years.
New Vistas Opened
One day a visiting minister from England handed me a tape recording, saying, “John, I think you will like this.”
It was a recording of Dr. Bob Finley telling a large crowd how he had traveled overseas as a missionary and discovered Christians in China and other parts of Asia and Africa had formed their own mission organizations and were sending out their own people as missionaries. They already knew the language, understood the customs, lived at the same level as the people they were trying to reach, and would never be deported over visa problems because they were citizens of the country in which they were ministering. But their countries were poor, and they needed financial help.
My wife and I felt led to sponsor one of those missionaries. A year later, we hosted the leader of one of those ministries and arranged two meetings a day. Dr. Finley was so impressed with my itinerary skills that he asked me to come to Charlottesville, Virginia, to arrange meetings for visiting missionaries from abroad.
We moved to Charlottesville in 1979, and I was soon in charge of the monthly newsletter—shades of the church newsletter I produced back when I was a pastor. That four-page newsletter grew to a 16-page, two-color magazine, and by 1992 it was a 24-page full-color quarterly. I had found my niche. I continued to serve that organization as editor until I retired in 2003—their 50th year.
When I was a young person, the only way I knew to serve the Lord was to be a pastor or a missionary. I never knew there was such a thing as Christian journalism. But that exit from the small-town church in 1970 put me on a path that led to ultimate fulfillment. The journey was not burdensome; it was an exciting ride taking me through India, Africa, South America and the Philippines.
You may not understand the disappointments you are experiencing right now. But hang with God, and He will walk with you down the path to a better outcome. That disappointment in 1970 was a stepping stone that opened new vistas and led to journalistic fulfillment 10 years later. And that joy and satisfaction has lasted until today.
Not a bad bargain, was it?